NEP 2020: Towards multidisciplinary higher education

Dr. Rakesh Bharti
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all!”~Aristotle
National Education Policy 2020 is a progressive and futuristic document aimed to transform higher education by making it more inclusive, holistic, and multidisciplinary in nature.A holistic and multidisciplinary learning is a unique educational approach that allows pupils to learn and explore different courses or curricula from different areas of study.Learning does not remain confined to the boundaries of a particular discipline. It is to be realized that quality of education should not be considered in fragmented terms but in a more holistic and expanded manner.A holistic and multidisciplinary approach in education is indispensible for developing well-rounded individuals that possess multifaceted functional capacities. A well identified set of skills and values is needed to develop holistic individuals at different stages of learning to meet the emerging challenges and needs of the modern era. In this regard, NEP 2020 rightly remarks that education is fundamental for achieving full human potential. A quality higher education must prepare the students for more productive and satisfying lives.
In this regard, a holistic and multidisciplinary approach is a system of curriculum integration that attempts to connect different areas of study to illustrate a theme, subject or issue.It is pertinent to mention here that NEP 2020 leaves no place for hard separation between arts and sciences, between curricular and co-curricular activities or between vocational and academic streams.The policy advocates creative and multidisciplinary curriculum that includes humanities,languages, culture, sports and fitness, health and well-being, arts and crafts, in addition to science and mathematics.It reflects the true essence of Swami Vivekananda’sMan-making Education, Sri Aurobindo’sIntegral Educationand Mahatma Gandhi’s Basic Education. It recognizes soft skills such as communication, adaptability, integrity, cooperation, teamwork, leadership, accountability, compassion,empathy, resilience etc. as ‘life skills’ while mastery and proficiency in a particular filed of knowledge as ‘hard skills’.The combination of the two creates a good balance between knowledge and interpersonal attributes. As such, this approach is conceived to help students develop academic expertise with vital leadership skills that can help them in their career path.
One can trace the roots of such an education system in ancient India. Our ancient education system evolved over the period and laid emphasis on the holistic development of the individual. This education system was regarded as the most prosperous and organised education system across the world. It was considereda source of knowledge, traditions and practices that guided and encouraged humanity. Students in Gurukuls were trained in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, law, politics and the art of warfare along with other vocational and professional skills.Emphasis was also laid on values such as humility, truthfulness, discipline, self-reliance and all other aspects of life. Multidisciplinary learning was not just an educational philosophy-it was a substantial way of understanding the world.
Our present day education system has a lot to learn from the ancient education system of India. We need universities like Takshashilaand Nalandain the modern day to address the issues of teaching and research to produce competent leadership in all spheres of life. Therefore, NEP 2020 envisions a holistic and multidisciplinary education with an aim to develop all capacities of human beings viz. intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional and moral.NEP 2020 proposes that a holistic and multidisciplinary education shall be the approach of all undergraduate programmes, including those in professional, technical, and vocational disciplines.The following key elements reflect the spirit of holistic and multidisciplinary learning:
* A multidisciplinary and holistic approach in education is instrumental in developing integrated individuals.It is a ground-breaking move as it helps the students to learn sciences, technologies, mathematics with liberal arts, humanities, languages, social sciences, professional skills, vocational skills, ethics, morality, human values and so on at the same time. This integrated approach can make students more marketable in today’s workforce.
* The aim is to integrate Arts stream with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).This approach incorporates the study of the humanities, language, arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, media and more alongwith the study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Integrating art and design with STEM increases the happiness and well-being of students. It improves problem-solving skills and sparks creativity as well as innovation. This framework helps the students to develop character traits such as perseverance, responsibility, and citizenship that will serve them well throughout their life.
* Application of science and technology in a more humane and rationale way is a moral and ethical responsibility. The values and attitudes are vital to guide individual actions in terms of principles of fairness, goodness, constructive and critical attitude and wisdom to discern between the potential and pitfalls of scientific and technological advancements.This approach strives to widen learner’s field of vision and promote the spirit of eternal curiosity and dialogue. True education must train learners to live creatively, responsibly and peacefully in a society, and become agents of change for the betterment of society.
* The policy is laying emphasis on the flexible and innovative curricula of all higher education institutions to include credit-based courses and projects in the areas of community engagement and service, environmental education, and value-based education towards the attainment of holistic and multidisciplinary education.
* The focus on ethical and constitutional values will go a long way in the creation of an enlightened citizenship, essential for deepening the country’s democratic roots.The underlying idea is to empower learners to become active promoters of more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable society.
* The policy indicates a considerable shift towards competence-based learning that helps students to further improve their core skills,instead of following a rigid course selection process.It is expected that professionals should develop both hard and soft skill sets to make them stronger applicants and performers in the world of work. The attitudes and values of hard work, integrity, discipline, cooperation, adaptability, compassion and communication enable them to develop healthy interpersonal relationships which in turn facilitate their maximum growth on the job.
It can be safely concluded that multidisciplinary learning is not simply a theory of education; it is a practical way of seeing the world.It is worth mentioning that the Indian way of learning, acquiring knowledge has always been liberal and multidisciplinary. This integrated approach to education has been India’s contribution to the world. Education in India has a legacy of being pragmatic, achievable and complementary to life. NEP 2020 will play a significant role in shaping the future of higher education in the country through holistic and multidisciplinary education.
(The author is an Assistant Professor of Education)